God and Man at Yale

A good, if slightly confusing, piece in The New York Times about Yale's decision to kick a church off campus that has been affiliated with the university for well over 200 years. Yale was founded by Congregationalist ministers -- the story refers to them as "congregational ministers" -- in 1701 and regularly held religious services. The university formed the Church of Christ in Yale in 1757 and the congregation has been meeting in the current Yale chapel, "an elaborate Victorian Gothic confection at Elm and College Streets," since 1876.

This congregation became part of the United Church of Christ in 1961, when the Rev. William Sloan Coffin (pictured) was the pastor, and the usual sort of politics attached itself to the church. One of the 100 or so remaining congregants is described as a "Green Party activist."

The Church of Christ in Yale has seen decreasing attendance, like many mainline Protestant churches. The Times gives us a window into this dynamic via a student. I've italicized a fun detail:

Ryan Hickey, a sophomore in the University Chapel Choir, whose members are paid to sing at the church, confirmed what was apparent from Sunday's crowd of about 100 mostly middle-aged people. "Not that many students come," said Mr. Hickey, who is not a congregant. On any given Sunday, he said, the vast majority of Yale students at the chapel are there to sing in the choir.

So the university has decided to kick the aging congregation out of a chapel that could seat 800 people and hold its own ecumenical Protestant services. The Church of Christ in Yale pastors who are identified are already on the university payroll and will continue to hold services for Yale students and the surrounding community.

The ousted congregation has decided to call itself the Shalom United Church of Christ.

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